Increasing the safety of the global food supply

The European Union Commission is on record as saying that counterfeiting and piracy increasingly involve children's toys, medicines, and food products, constituting a real danger to consumers. Incidents of mad cow disease, foot and mouth disease, bird flu, and the threat from global terrorism continue to adversely impact the economy of many nations and reduce consumer confidence, driving more rapid deployment of global food safety tracking and tracing systems.

The US Bioterrorism Act is just one part of current and evolving industry and government activities designed to increase the safety and security of the global food supply. These include the US FDA and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) joint Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) and FAST (Free and Secure Trade) programs, the Advanced Manifest Ruling (AMR) and FDA/CBP Prior Notice Ruling, the Operation Safe Commerce (OSC) initiative, the Smart and Secure Trade lanes (SST) initiative, and activities of the World Customs Organization (WCO), as well as other European Union (EU), and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) activities.

C-TPAT is a joint government-business initiative charged with strengthening the security of supply chains, from the point of origin to final destination, across all nodes and trading partners. Although the program is voluntary, thousands of companies are participating and have conducted security self-assessments in order to receive specific benefits from CBP, including expedited clearance of shipments. While not all the security profiles have been validated by CBP via on-site inspection and personalized review, companies ranging from General Motors to McCain Foods are mandating compliance from their suppliers and carriers.

In the words of the Transportation Security Administration, OSC is "a collaborative effort between the federal government, business interests, and the maritime industry to develop and share best practices for the safe and expeditious movement of containerized cargo." One of the first pilots involved Starbucks Coffee, the Port of Seattle, SAIC, Parsons Brinkckerhoff, Savi Technology and Mercator Transportation Group. In May 2003, the first 12 inter-modal shipping containers traveled from a remote location in Central America to the retailer's distribution center near Seattle. This pilot deployed a variety of technologies, including web-enabled video, RFID devices, electronic seals, GPS satellite tracking, and visibility and control software. Savi Technology provided the visibility and control software called Savi Transportation Security System. It includes instantaneous notification of container security breaches, user configurable workflow, document and image capturing, x-ray scanners and other devices, route planning and verification, virtual inspection and monitoring, and container history and audit trail reports.

Launched in July 2002, SST is an industry-driven initiative comprised of 65 organizations, including three port operating companies, Hutchinson Port Holdings, PSA, and P&O Ports, that together account for 70 percent of the world's container port operations. SST is leveraging a network pioneered by the US Department of Defense called the Total Asset Visibility (TAV) network. TAV was designed to track military shipments around the world. The network uses existing US and international standards and integrates with automatic data collection devices such as bar codes, RFID, and GPS. Separately, an initiative called Safe Inter-Modal Transport Across the Globe (SIMTAG) was launched with partial funding from the European Union (see SIMTAG is similar in scope to Operation Safe Commerce (OSC) and SST.

Participants in SST, including the US Trade and Development Agency (USTDA), the WCO, SIMTAG, South African Port Operations, the Namibian Port Authority, and MEATCO, have completed another inter-modal transportation security pilot transporting and tracking refrigerated containers of meat from inland Namibia to the UK Port of Tilbury. The USTDA also helped to fund another project, which deployed similar RFID technologies and software used by SST that was demonstrated by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in a trade lane between ports in Bangkok and Seattle. SST's presence has been extended to five continents, installing and tracking containers at installations in more than 15 other port operations in Asia, Europe, Latin America and the US. While more than 2,000 containers embedded with active RFID sensor seals have been shipped under the auspices of SST-related programs, it is estimated that there are 15 to 30 million containers that will need to be replaced with more secure embedded RFID technology since retrofitting older containers does not provide the same level of security. "The current base of containers and the lack of standards are currently obstacles to rapid deployment of smart containers," says Lani Fritts, vice president of business development for Savi Technology. "However global political interests remain the primary obstacle."

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